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Seasonal Affective Disorder - Symptoms and How to Combat It

With winter setting in, darker mornings and sunsets at 5pm many of us will be finding it harder and harder to leave our comfy cozy beds in the morning and find motivation. Yet for many the winter months may mean a cloud of depression is looming.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has similar symptoms to depression, which show up each year between autumn and winter and tend to lift by spring time. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person, some find the symptoms simply irritating while others find that it severely impacts their day- to- day lives.

Who does SAD affect;

  1. Anyone; it affects roughly 1 in 15 people in the UK

  2. It has been found that women are four times more likely than men to suffer from SAD

  3. A family history of SAD, depression or bipolar disorder can increase your risk

  4. In occurs more in people between the ages of 18 and 30

Signs and Symptoms of SAD Can Include;

  1. Persistent low mood

  2. Loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities

  3. Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness

  4. Lack of energy throughout the day, feeling tired or struggling to get up in a morning

  5. Appetite changes; sometimes leading to weight gain

  6. Becoming less sociable

  7. Tearfulness

  8. Feeling agitated or struggling to concentrate

These symptoms are due to the shortening of the daylight hours; the lack of vital sunlight, causing a chemical imbalance within the area of our brain which regulates our mood, appetite and sleep; the hypothalamus.

Factors Believed to Cause SAD;

  1. Biological clock (circadian rhythm); the reduced level of sunlight during the winter months can disrupt our bodies internal clock leading to the feelings of depression.

  2. Increased Melatonin levels; the season change can disrupt the balance of our body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in our sleeping patterns and mood.

  3. Decreased Serotonin levels; reduced sunlight can cause our serotonin levels to drop triggering depression. Serotonin is often called the happy chemical and has a wide variety of functions in our body.

SAD reoccurs for many each year and while we have the festive period, time with family and friends and the new year to look forward to, it may be worth looking at extra ways to lift your spirits and improve how you’re feeling. Developing coping strategies that work for you this year can then be put into action in following years, as we recognise the extra care we need.

Ideas to Combat SAD;

  1. Speak to your GP, if you are finding it increasingly difficult to cope.

  2. Seek counselling; talking therapies offer us a confidential space to discuss our feelings openly.

  3. Try to make the most of the natural light; walk or sit outside each day or consider moving your ‘working from home’ space close to a window.

  4. Invest in a light box, filled with white fluorescent bulbs.

  5. Consider your Vitamin D levels; naturally through your diet, vitamins/ supplements or by speaking with your GP. (Foods that can help; salmon, eggs, mushrooms, low fat milk and orange juice).

  6. Try to stay active, the endorphins can help us to feel happier.

  7. Stay connected, reach out to family, friends and loved ones.

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